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Very Best of Friends
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James and Jessie, a farm couple, share a life of happy companionship. When James dies unexpectedly, Jessie withdraws in grief, shutting out everything and everyone, including James's dearly loved cat, William. Unattended, William grows ``mean and lean,'' and one day scratches Jessie. Thus startled back to reality, Jessie undertakes to win William's trust and affection, with favorable results. Children will be quick to figure out the underlying theme here--that friendships need careful tending and generous amounts of love. The poignant tale is superbly told by Wild ( Mr. Nick's Knitting ), who achieves an enviable balance of detail and simplicity. Vivas's pictures are a perfect complement: her ragtag characters and soft watercolors capture the essence of an affectionate marriage in the way James's hand rests fondly on his wife's slipper, and the pathos of death in the scene where the ambulance carrying James pulls away, leaving Jessie and her pets standing in stunned silence. This is a moving story by a gifted Australian duo. Ages 4-8. (Mar.)

Gr 2-3-- A story about relationships, love and loss, survival and recovery. James and Jessie are a farm couple, childless and of indeterminate age. Jessie merely tolerates William, James' beloved cat. On the other hand, William and James spend their days together, ``the very best of friends.'' ``Then one Sunday morning James died suddenly.'' In her grief, Jessie quite literally shuts William out, spurning all his efforts to help. He grows ``mean and lean, and he hated everything and everyone.'' (On the accompanying double-page spread he bares teeth and claws, and hisses, scruffy and ferocious.) William finally gets Jessie's attention when he scratches her. She opens the door, apologizes, and starts to let William take James' place (as she takes James' place for him). William concludes that Jessie is ``beginning to love him a lot.'' Vivas doesn ' t prettify the plain people or the uncuddly animals, but her romantic palette washes the horses in violet and the trees in tender jade, underscoring the sentimental side of this down-home, down-under tale. Despite the happy ending, this is not a ``cute cat'' story, and some readers may find the undisguised depiction of grief and the rejection of the cat (a child-surrogate) disturbing. --Patricia Dooley, Univ . of Washington, Seattle

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